In discussions with our customers, we’ve seen an interesting trend emerge in recent months. A surprising number of customers are telling us that their goal is to never build another data center again, or even to do away with their data centers completely. They see the cloud as central to this goal. We’re seeing this trend from customers of many different sizes, from mid-size to large and very large companies. This new mindset seems to reflect a major shift in direction as enterprises rethink their IT strategies.
One interesting aspect of this trend is that customers are taking the lead in recognizing the possibilities of the cloud. As their confidence grows, they’re taking another look at their current infrastructure and adopting a new mindset around what enterprise computing should look like. While the traditional brick and mortar data center has been a staple of enterprise IT for decades, nobody really wants to have an expensive data center, and enterprises realize that now they’re in a position to do something about it. They want to get off the “data center treadmill” because they know where it leads: to ever-increasing operating costs, ever-larger capital investments, more and more manpower, and a huge distraction from their main mission. With the emergence of the cloud as a viable alternative, enterprises are taking a close look at the way they’ve been doing things and incorporating cloud into their overall infrastructure plans.
We’re actually seeing two flavors of this trend. Some companies in the mid-tier space are now trying to determine if they can get down to a very small data center footprint or none at all. They’ve already consolidated as much as they can, perhaps from several data centers down to one. They’ve virtualized much of their environment and squeezed as much efficiency as possible out of it, and now they’ve turned to the cloud to offload the next level of application infrastructure. As they shift operations to the cloud, they’ve decided to stop building out their data centers or taking more space at their colos. The argument (at least in the mid-tier space) is: “Data center management is not our core business, so why are we investing so much time, effort, and expense in it, instead of leveraging resources that are managed by the experts?”
We’re also engaged with much larger F1000 companies with more extensive operations. They may have had dozens of data centers at one point, and have been trying to scale down to less than ten. They’ve aggressively consolidated and virtualized, but know they’re not likely to be able to live without a data center in the foreseeable future since their operations are just too vast and fast-growing (especially when they engage in M&A activity). These companies also have “big iron” in their data centers (like mainframes, dedicated cluster hardware, and high performance SANs) that can’t be directly moved or hosted in the clouds. In addition, some critical data and computing will have to remain under tight control for compliance and business reasons. Thus there are factors at play that will slow down their ability to close their data centers — but they aspire to, and this long-term vision is starting to inform their strategic planning. The way they think about where to run their applications is changing, and they’re just as eager as mid-sized companies to get off the capital expenditure treadmill.
What will this new world look like? Enterprise computing is already in the midst of dramatic change, where the old brick and mortar data center is being replaced by pools of virtual resources that can be located anywhere as long as they perform and behave in the way that meets business requirements. Physical control of resources is being replaced by virtual control, by an administrator managing the virtual data centers across multiple clouds from their desktop or laptop.
How will it come about? Much of the cloud discussion over the past year has been dominated by hybrid clouds, where workloads can be allocated across internal and external resources. Using this approach, enterprises can take advantage of resources on demand for scaling and peak workloads rather than over-provisioning the internal environment. They can also use clouds in multiple regions so that processing and data can be placed near consumers, eliminating the latency of a distant internal server. And they can offload back-office, non-mission-critical apps from their internal environments given that many of these could really be run anywhere. Enterprises will use this hybrid model to make the transition to the virtual data center, choosing which workloads have to run on their internal infrastructure and which can run externally. Over time, the internal environment will shrink as companies run more and more workloads in the cloud.
The possibilities start to get very interesting. Rather than the current approach to cloud computing, where enterprises try to graft cloud capabilities on top of a legacy infrastructure, the cloud becomes a virtual private data center. A control point is still needed to manage those pools of resources across the different cloud environments, but this could be something extremely lightweight and portable such as an administrator’s laptop.
This is the next, upcoming chapter in the hybrid story — and once again, CloudSwitch is playing a leading role. As innovators in the hybrid space, we make it easy to provision, migrate, scale, and manage workloads in public clouds, while providing the security, control, and adherence to standards that an enterprise depends on. Using our technology, enterprises can orchestrate workloads across the cloud landscape (internal and external), as they start to phase out their current environments and get off the “data center treadmill.”